Plasma Treatment of Textiles:
Changing Fiber Surfaces
Peter J. Hauser, Associate Professor
North Carolina State University - College of Textiles
Plasma, often referred to as the fourth state of
matter, is an ionized gas consisting of highly energetic electrons
and positive ions. Plasmas are generated by high electric fields
and can interact with solids to provide unique surface properties.
Plasma treatments have been used to induce both surface modifications
and bulk property enhancements of textile materials, resulting in
improvements to textile products ranging from conventional fabrics
to advanced composites. These treatments have been shown to enhance
dyeing rates of polymers, to improve colorfastness and wash resistance
of fabrics, to increase adhesion of coatings, and to modify the
wettability of fibers and fabrics. Research has shown that improvements
in toughness, tenacity, and shrink resistance can be achieved by
subjecting various thermoplastic fibers to a plasma atmosphere.
Recently, plasma treatments have produced increased moisture absorption
in fibers, altered degradation rates of biomedical materials (such
as sutures), and deposition of low friction coatings.
Plasma treatment may be performed either at low
pressures (vacuum) or at atmospheric pressures. Although vacuum
plasma processes and are well understood and are used extensively
in the semiconductor industry, the fact that vacuum conditions are
necessary makes low pressure plasma impractical to use in industries
requiring high rates of throughput, e.g., the textile industry.
Atmospheric plasma treatment, on the other hand, is well suited
for continuous processing, but the technology is relatively new,
and not completely understood.
A research team at North Carolina State University
led by Drs. Marian McCord (Textile Engineering) and Mohamed Bourham
(Nuclear Engineering) is investigating the use of atmospheric plasma
for continuous textile processing. Some examples of this research
are shown in Figures 1 and 2.
Figure 1. Surface of ultra high modulus polyethylene fibers.
Left: Control. Right: He Treated 2 minutes with He plasma
Figure 2. Surface of ultra high modulus polyethylene fiber
treated 2 minutes with He/O2 plasma.
Ultra high modulus polyethylene fibers were exposed to either a
helium gas plasma (Figure 1) or a plasma containing both helium
and oxygen (Figure 2). Increased fiber surface roughness is clearly
seen in both cases. The helium/oxygen plasma is more aggressive
in action and produces a different surface appearance.
A laboratory plasma device has been constructed
and is capable of exposing textile materials to atmospheric plasma
conditions in a continuous process (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Atmospheric plasma unit
at NC State College of Textiles
Atmospheric plasma treatment has the capability
to enhance or replace conventional wet finishing processes as well
as produce novel fiber surfaces. For more information on this exciting
Peter J. Hauser
College of Textiles, Box 8301
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8301
Telephone: (919) 513-1899
Fax: (919) 515-6532